letter to the editor 2

2020 has been a hard year for everyone. I lost my best friend — Dr. Stephanie Chorney, a local artist, grassroots activist, member of the New Jersey Environmental Lobby and former co-chair of the Princeton Environmental Commission. When I am struggling, my mom reminds me that “God will send a messenger.” Stephanie was that messenger for eight years for me. We were the same age, both mothers to young boys, and we shared December birthdays. Our dedication to social and environmental justice, however, is what created our deep and unshakeable bond.

My passion to make Princeton and New Jersey greener, cleaner, and more equitable are now joined with the desire to make sure that Dr. Stephanie Chorney’s “memory is a blessing.”

I am losing my patience with our local elected officials, who have the power, privilege, and responsibility to act, and refuse to do so.

I do not believe Princeton elected officials are “climate deniers,” but their inaction over decades on public health issues and their refusal to consider proven solutions make them complicit in what they claim to be fighting. We promote ourselves as “sustainable and welcoming,” we don’t walk the talk.

Princeton leadership undermined the good work of Dr. Stephanie Chorney, Daniel Harris, and myself. We started the movement to pass plastic pollution ordinances in Princeton in 2011. Trenton, Pennington and Hopewell all passed ordinances over the past decade. Princeton leaders failed to act despite the fact that Princeton residents passed the 2014 Mercer County referendum — overwhelmingly.

A few weeks ago Governor Phil Murphy signed S864, the Plastic Pollution Act, now the strictest in our nation. I started testifying for state action in 2013. My bill, “Regenerate Princeton — ByoBag” — the first and arguably the best — advocated for a fee charge of $0.10 on paper bags. It otherwise mirrors the state bill, which I fully support.

Another issue that has recently gathered incredible energy is the problem of gas-powered leaf blowers. Grace Sinden, former Princeton Environmental Commission Chair, began the fight for an ordinance more than two decades ago! Eunice Wong, a 14-year Princeton resident, started a petition last week, calling for a leaf blower ordinance in 2021. I have written an excellent draft ordinance.

You can sign the petition at: https://www.change.org/Leaf_Blower_Ordinance_2021

Together we, along with Quiet Princeton and, at the time of writing, more than 320 Princeton residents, as well as 1,673 supporters from around the globe, want an ordinance in 2021 to address the inequity towards landscape workers, noise, and air pollution.

The petition will be presented at the virtual Council meeting on Monday, December 21. Please sign it and attend the Council meeting if you can.

Then please send your email to LBOrdinance2021@gmail.com or to me so you can receive updates, and, most importantly, so Eunice can reach out with future petitions on the issue.

Gas-powered leaf blowers, like plastic pollution, are a public health issue. Landscape workers are forced to use machinery that causes irreparable harms: hearing loss, respiratory and cardiovascular disease, hypertension, asthma, cancer, and dementia.

We, the privileged in Princeton, must be the voice for the voiceless in Princeton, the poor, the undernourished, those with bad water, and low-paid workers, many of whom don’t speak English. Environmental activism is about equity and justice. Let’s live by our values, let’s listen to our Environmental Commission. We are, after all, all Princetonians equally deserving to be safe from known harms and nuisance.

Bainy Suri, Esq.

Executive Director, New Jersey Environmental Lobby

Chestnut Street, Princeton

Editor’s note: The Change.org petition in favor of regulating the use of gas-powered leafblowers in Princeton states its mission as follows:

“Please make a leaf blower ordinance in Princeton a priority for 2021.

“Current leaf blower use in Princeton, a near constant part of our daily lives, needs more rigorous regulation. The most common blowers utilize one of the dirtiest, most polluting types of engines in the world. They are an invasive source of noise pollution, and, especially with more Princeton residents working and schooling from home due to the COVID pandemic, the problematic issue of leaf blowers is gaining rapid momentum in the community. The health consequences of their use, both to landscape workers and the community, are well documented.

“Let’s make Princeton quieter and cleaner for our residents, landscape workers, and our planet.”

And the petition concludes with the following call to action:

“Princeton is a leader in so many fields. Let’s stand with these other cities in reducing one of the greatest sources of pollution and health risks in our community. Make a leaf blower ordinance a priority in 2021.”